Cleckheaton produced a tactically masterful performance to secure an unlikely 27-7 victory at National Three North high fliers Billingham last Saturday.
Cleckheaton wholeheartedly stuck to their game plan and inflicted only Billingham’s second loss at their Greenwood Road ground in the last 12 months.
Having won the toss, Cleck captain Richard Piper opted to play uphill, into a strong wind for the first period.
After 15 minutes, Cleck decided to substitute stand-off, Ronan Evans, and play with two scrum-halfs, Neil Chivers and Jack Bickerdike, after realising that the only way to get up field was by brute strength and determined bashing.
The front three of Andy Piper, Mark Chivers and man-of-the-match Paul Turner worked tirelessly to carry the ball into Billingham’s defence, with huge performances also from Ryan Piercy and Luke Pearson as well as the back row of Tom Austin, Jack Seddon and Richard Piper.
Cleckheaton found progress hard to come by with kicking ruled out due to the strong wind blowing into their faces.
However, Cleck showed remarkable patience and great ball retention to slowly clear their lines, with Neil Cherryholme, a replacement in the centre for injured Matt Piper, also eager to help out the pack.
A brief lapse in concentration allowed Billingham to get their only score after 20 minutes, when a quick line out was collected by centre, Luke Wilson, and he hot-footed it to the line unopposed. Pete Evans converted.
As half-time approached Cleckheaton finally started to enjoy some possession inside the Billingham danger zone and after a storming run by Turner, Richard Piper went in for a try. Josh Hall added the conversion to level the scores and the lady referee blew to signal the end of the first period.
Cleckheaton used the wind to their advantage after the break and Billingham knew they were up against it having no lead at the halfway stage.
Despite the odd breakaway, Cleck kept the opposition penned in their own territory for much of the second half.
Billingham’s line out was dysfunctional and coupled with many handling errors from the home side, Cleckheaton benefitted from lots of possession.
Neil Chivers found himself in plenty of space early on and landed a drop goal to edge Cleck ahead.
Soon after, Luke Pearson retrieved a line out and when Billingham stood away, inviting the truck and trailer, the 20-year-old was smart enough to turn as if he was about to set up a maul and then dive forward through the gap left by the home pack.
Ronan Evans had retaken the field for James Wilson and landed the conversion before adding a penalty to give Cleckheaton a 20-7 lead.
With 13 points in it, Cleckheaton were still nervous of a Billingham resurgence, especially having been reduced to 14 men with a yellow card.
After a strong defensive display, Jack Seddon cast away any faint hopes of a Billingham come back when he dribbled the ball from the No8 position at the back of a five metre scrum and then picked up and scored.
Evans added the additional two points to seal a convincing, well deserved and very welcome win for Cleckheaton.